Crisis On Multiple Blogs – A Response To Pillock’s Response To Me (Hyperpost 10)

A revised and improved version of this essay is in my book Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! – hardback, paperback, PDF Kindle (US), Kindle (UK), all other ebook formats

Panel from page 1 of Crisis On Infinite Earths 1. Written by Marv Wolfman, drawn by George Perez & Dick Giordano.

Panel from page 1 of Crisis On Infinite Earths 1. Written by Marv Wolfman, drawn by George Perez & Dick Giordano.

One of the things I was proudest about since starting this blog – something that nobody except me would have considered remarkable – was a sentence from Gavin B in the comments section to my ridiculously popular NHS post.

Speaking to a troll, Gavin said, in part, “Generally on Andrew’s blog we play the ball, not the man.”

It seems like a very little thing, and I’m sure to everyone else it is, but it confirmed for me that my posts here aren’t just standing on their own, but they’re part of a community – a ‘we’. (Actually, I think my blog’s comments section is the intersection between two or three different communities, which is one of the things I’m happiest about). I like that that community is identifiable enough that you can make generalisations about it, quite casually.

While I blog in great part to get the thoughts in my head out of it, I also do it because I crave discussion, and I get that from the responses people post to my stuff, be it in comments here, or on The Mindless Ones, or Sean at Supervillain or David at Vibrational Match linking my posts, or Debi reposting my NHS post, or James Graham reacting to my posts, or even Charlotte ‘fisking’ me. It makes me feel like my ramblings have some actual importance…

And one of the more important people in the community/ies that this blog belongs to is pillock, who is one of several regular commenters here whose comments inevitably make me feel like I’ve not thought out my original post enough (if you count as a ‘regular commenter’, you’re probably one of these – I get regular small epiphanies from the comments section here – the comments to the postmodernism post being very much a case in point).

So, much like Millennium’s post about my quantum physics post, I think pillock’s post about my Crisis On Infinite Earths post deserves a reply.

His main point, that a reinvigoration of DC Comics was absolutely necessary, and coincided with Crisis coming out, is absolutely true. Immediately pre-Crisis, with a few bright spots like Moore’s Swamp Thing (and if I had infinitely many posts in this series before I exhausted the last reader’s patience, I would devote at least one post to how Moore actually made use of Crisis in ways few others had, and how Morrison references this in Seven Soldiers), DC was full of absolute crap. A while ago I downloaded a torrent of all the Crisis tie-in issues – which is to say every DCU comic from 1985 and 86 – and other than Swamp Thing , and some of Engelhart’s Green Lantern (and even that had horribly dated) there was literally nothing of any value.

On the other hand, the period immediately post-Crisis and for a few years afterwards was probably the most creatively fertile for DC since the late 1930s. Byrne’s revamp of Superman – though widely derided now – was regarded at the time as a necessary move. Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire’s Justice League is still thought of fondly twenty-odd years later. Grant and Breyfogle on Batman introduced more new villains than anyone since the forties, Grant Morrison completely reinvented what could be done with mainstream superhero comics in Animal Man and Doom Patrol, and even the basic filler comics like Booster Gold had a base level of competence that was completely missing from even DC’s top selling comics a couple of years earlier.

We can debate to what extent this would have happened without Crisis – after all, Moore was making great use of the ‘outdated’ Silver Age concepts in his few superhero stories at the time, and my own view is that much of the change was due to the old freelancers who made up most of the DC workforce upping their game in response to the competition from the new blood coming over from the UK (the Giffen/DeMatteis League for example starts out as as blatant an attempt at a Watchmen follow-up as you could get). But I agree that Crisis provided a very good ‘line in the sand’ – we can talk about pre-Crisis and post-Crisis DC in a way we can’t with any other event. There was a change there, and Crisis was, if not the instigator, certainly part of that change.

I’m also perfectly happy to agree that on its own terms Crisis is actually a very good comic. Not a great comic – Wolfman’s purple prose stops that being a possibility – but a solid piece of superhero sturm und drang. Matt Rossi sums up most of my thoughts about the comic, and I can only add my own experience to this.

I first read Crisis when I was eleven or twelve, and the comic itself had come out several years earlier. At the time I had no real access to US comics except through British reprints, living in a tiny town, but for Xmas every year I was allowed to place a mail order for about a hundred quid’s worth with Forbidden Planet. I’d built Crisis up in my mind into some huge, legendary story that was totally unlike everything else ever – and when I read it, it didn’t disappoint me.

(You could actually do an analysis of Crisis as being a psychological journey for Superman – the archetypal superhero – as he rids himself of his demons (Ultraman) before fully integrating his child (Superboy) and father (Superman of Earth 2) aspects into one rounded personality. It’s appropriate that Superman is the only character whose post-Crisis changes really mattered).

But where I do disagree with Pillock is his suggestion that Crisis wasn’t ‘motivated by a nerdish need to enforce continuity’. To which I can only respond with these quotes from Marv Wolfman’s backmatter in Crisis issue one (well before any revisionism could happen):

Writers like to complicate matters and what began as a dream of a story – “Flash of Two Worlds” – had turned into a nightmare. DC continuity was so confusing no new reader could easily understand it while older readers had to keep miles-long lists to keep things straight.

Which simply isn’t true. When I was seven or eight I’d see random issues, out of order, sometimes printed decades apart, many of which were multiple-universe stories, and even then I’d never had any problem keeping track of it. Read Wolfman’s full essay – page 1 and page 2 – and you’ll see that he refers to the very idea of parallel universes as ‘problems’ and ‘complications’ and ‘nightmares’. While I like it as a comic it was very clearly created because Wolfman saw the very existence of these things as problematic.

What I find odd is Pillock defending this story with this reasoning:

All I’m saying is: there are always alternative narratives, and although weighing and judging them to see which ones have the better possibilities in them isn’t doing history either — is no closer to truth! — still as long as “history” isn’t what we’re doing, we might as well feel free to consider our different options. My story of the history of Crisis and continuity here, for all its inevitable lapses and inaccuracies, is at least as true to fact as is the Official Story…and maybe it even has a slight edge over it?

Which is in fact a big part – possibly the most important part – of what I’ve been saying in all these parts, and which is the very thing that Crisis set itself up in opposition to. The whole point of Crisis is a reaction against the very idea of ‘alternative narratives’. It’s a very Reaganite comic in fact – a bright new dawn, but you mustn’t disagree with the consensus. We can build a new future, but there’s only one possible future, and you’re not allowed to prefer the other possibilities.

Just look at that panel at the top of the page – “A multiverse that should have been one became many”.

“Should have been”. Wolfman appears morally affronted by the idea of multiplicity, alternatives, messiness. He wants a nice, orderly universe with everything in its place. And one can argue about whether removing all the ‘clutter’ is a necessary thing or not (just as one could argue about, say, Thatcher’s recreation of the British economy and the consequent destruction of Britain’s industrial base) but I think the impulse behind it is a worrying one, no matter what the result.

Like I said, I enjoy it as a comic, still – it’s one of only a handful of Big Superhero Crossovers that have had anything interesting about them (all the others have been written or co-written by Grant Morrison, without exception) – but it’s a good comic made for bad motives, and for once the early-21st-century consensus is probably the right one, overall…

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14 Responses to Crisis On Multiple Blogs – A Response To Pillock’s Response To Me (Hyperpost 10)

  1. Chad Nevett says:

    A tangental comment: I’m always amused by the idea that continuity is too dense for readers — often children cited as those confused. And, yet, NONE of us who read comics as children were ever confused by continuity. I’ve yet to find one single person who said as a kid they were confused by comic book continuity. Kids tend to gloss over the details they don’t know or investigate them further with more zeal than most of us adults can muster for anything anymore. The more obscure details and involvement, the more kids seem to love things. In that way, was Crisis possibly the first hint of ‘mainstream’ superhero comics shifting from being aimed at kids but to adults who grew up reading comics? (Although, that wouldn’t make sense either since they’d know continuity…) So, wait, what was the point of Crisis again?

  2. Alexander says:

    I’ve been following this series for a while, accumulating various thoughts until I finally felt I just HAD to contribute, so bear with me if sometimes this seems a tad scattershot…

    I’m 19 years old, meaning I have no memories at ALL of when Crisis came out. I first got into comics with Grant Morrison’s amazing (and bizarrely underdiscussed nowadays, when compared with all of his other superhero runs) New X-Men, and followed him over to DC when he left in 2004 to start Seven Soldiers. I got sucked into the “Crisis” flurry when Johns’ Infinite Crisis came out, forcing me to go back and reread a good thirty years’ worth of great DC stories, and I have to say, that mid-late 80’s period does stand out as a really great time for DC, when their comics actually began to really show their true potential that no one had seen in years.

    I didn’t follow DC continuity at all when I first started going back to read Crisis, so I didn’t know any of the Earth-1, Earth-2, Earth-B, Earth-whatever stuff, I just went along for the ride. But really, Crisis proved that multiple earths actually can make for some MUCH more interesting stories than those confined to a common reality. When I was reading Crisis, I certainly didn’t think “Lady Quark? Pariah? Ultraman? Captain Atom? Who are these people?! Into the garbage with you!” I was much more caught up in “Ahh, there’s ANOTHER Superman who’s older than this one? And another even younger one? And they’re all fighting a monster who eats universes? Where has this been all my short, empty life?” When you’re dealing with crazy alternative worlds as your subject matter, you gain quite a bit of license to just “go with the flow.”

    I don’t even think continuity in and of itself makes comics hard to follow or easy to follow. I showed my friend “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” and he followed it completely without any real knowledge of Supergirl, Mxyzptlk, or any of the other characters. I even gave that same friend (who is for the most part utterly uncaring about comics except for the ones I beg him to read) “Final Crisis,” supposedly utterly incomprehensible to anyone not versed in every bit of literature released since 1875, and he didn’t come back with complaints about “Who’s this Turpin? How can all this stuff be happening at once? Why are we supposed to care about these weird monitor things? What the hell does the Super Young Team even DO?!” He came back with “Batman shot the god of all evil with a fucking GUN and said “GOTCHA!” How FUCKING AWESOME IS THAT?”

    I think the point I’m trying to make here is that the real problem that often gets comics in the post-Crisis era is the concept that continuity can make or break any story. If it’s an epic, balls-to-the-wall piece of superhero poetry, it doesn’t really matter if the author references or doesn’t reference some obscure, fan-beloved story from 53 years ago: it’s the story that resonates with us, not memories of earlier stories. If it’s a story about superheroes from an infinite number of realities battling for creation itself, most people will say “AHA! Sounds like a fun ride” and just carry on.

    If on the other hand, like too many modern writers *coughcough*JOHNS*coughcough*, one writes a story that builds itself upon references to ancient, “revered” stories as a shortcut to establishing REAL emotional, visceral identification, most people will pick it up, put it back and walk away.

  3. pillock says:

    Oh Andrew, you flatterer! But yes: I really appreciated that “play the ball not the man” thing as well. Because it’s bloody well true! And my online community is the one in which people talk seriously about things they care about, give others the dignity they’re due, and disagree responsibly…I wanted to blog but didn’t, until I found a corner of the Internet that proved to me there were people out here who wanted to use it sensitively and personally, to accomplish some sort of Good.

    And this is not my complete reply — my complete reply will probably centre on insisting you write that Moore/Crisis/Morrison thing, because I think that piece couldn’t fail but to connect significantly with the post on “The Kingdom”…which I liked a lot and consider a good Hypertime story, even though I don’t like Hypertime and don’t like Kingdom Come or Magog or any of the rest of it, because some of the tie-ins (the Batman tie-ins most noticeably) were both cosmologically-significant and fun, full of Morrisonian joie de vivre…and so how can you even contemplate not writing the thing, my God! —

    But first I’ve got to say, Number One, Chad I think Marv Wolfman would have no choice but to agree with what you say here — I do think he must have been dissembling a little bit in those pieces Andrew so damningly quotes, at least to the extent that he appears to speak against the same out-of-order attraction to an ongoing story that clearly must have drawn him to Marvel Comics in the Sixties, as it in turn drew me to Marvel Comics in the Seventies…because I mean, what else was Marvel’s innovation, but one that made it so you “gotta catch ’em all” even though you knew you never could…?

    And this will be the basic point upon which my opposition to Andrew in this matter turns…

    But more importantly, Number Two: Andrew, holy shit, you made me laugh here! So many years and so many tired old accusations of “fascism” against the superheroes…well here is one that could be made, that I don’t think we’ve seen before: a completely fictional and overstory-based Strength Through Unity idea…Jesus, but this place is a mess, isn’t it? People just running off willy-nilly, making stories that dilute and distort, until who KNOWS what will come of it all…

    …So let’s bridle it and hook it up to traces, see its true identity expressed in the work it ought to do. I don’t say you’re wrong (although of course God knows I’d never accuse Marv Wolfman, Kirby’s acolyte, of “liking fascism” either…I mean the thing is ridiculous on its face!…but then I’d also never accuse Siegel and Shuster of that, and WOW can their creation be psychoanalytically deconstructed these days…my point being that of course the figure of Superman is essentially absurd, because essentially it is a hypercompressed anxiety-superposition, the figure of Superman (well, and Captain America too, for that matter) is so attractive in part because it partakes of what it objects to, it’s a figure out of dreams, an irrational figure with a huge symbolic burden on its shoulders…I mean that’s the beauty of the superheroes, right? That they’ve got tension built into themselves…I mean for fuck’s sake look at stupid old Green Arrow! Messner-Loebs knew that the coolest thing about him was how old he was getting…)

    …But it is one hilarious implication (inference, maybe?) that you’re (I’m?) making…that the basic superhero conceit, which is the primal conceit of Superman, which if you grind it all down into sand is not just an extraordinarily vital conceit but also an extraordinarily vexed one…and maybe the two are the same thing?…is reiterated here in the first “event” comic…and not just reiterated but made good on

    Sublimated, of course, in true copy of the original Superman style. All that pschological jazz you refer to…

    You know, no one ever talks (at any sort of elevated level, that is) about the therapeutic component of the superhero story.

    But I think this post is edging up to it, honestly!

    Bravo!

    Or rather, I mean:

    Encore!

    (But just wait ’til I complete my sordid remarks though, huh…)

    Marvellous stuff. I definitely need to restock on beer tonight, if you’re going to throw <i.this sort of complex material at me. This is the turn, isn’t it? This is where your Hyperposts get to the “Flash Dies” issue, and then all the threads get brought back together…

    Man. This was a really worthwhile blog-project.

  4. pillock says:

    And I totally didn’t even see Alexander’s great comment there.

    Alexander, I’ve GOT to ask you this: what was the first superhero comic you read that really grabbed you? And what was the first ssuperhero series you liked enough to care about?

    Don’t worry about your answer: we play the ball here, not the man.

    • Alexander says:

      Gotta say, for me, it was GM’s New X-Men. It hooked me completely right from the start, and the way he completely revamped the X-Men into a cultural examination of the youth and the evolution of the human race just made me THINK more than any other comic I looked at it. The first comic I started reading was Ultimate Spider-Man, because it was fun and I enjoyed that sort of thing, but that was the first one I LOVED. I mean, I checked it out because it had Wolverine on the cover, but I stayed because it had more substance and was just more engaging than anything else on the stands (the fact that even a 13-year-old could see that kind of puts the lie to the “incomprehensible Morrison” crap out there).

      From there, I never really followed series, I followed creators. I used to follow Bendis, before his more mediocre output just became way too much to handle. I bought Seven Soldiers and 52 when they first came out, and by that time I pretty much spent most of my comic-reading $ on old trades of classic runs and writers.

  5. Oliver Townshend says:

    I enjoyed Crisis when it came out, but what I never understood was why it didn’t end with Issue 10. The worlds are destroyed and re-intergrated as one new world. And that would be it for the story. No one would remember what happens, and the DC Universe would start again. A bit like Bladerunner ending when the elevator doors slam shut (in the first “Director’s Cut” – a tautology if ever I heard one).

    But no, for some funny reason we had one world, and two Supermen. And all sorts of other odd plot threads which made no sense. Some people remembered the split worlds, and others didn’t. Huntress wandered around like a lost soul (and knew it), while the original Flash was perfectly happy. No thought had gone into the aftermath. What should have been a brand new start for most of the comics, became an ad-hoc mish-mash of stories.

    As to John Byrne’s work on Superman in “Man of Steel”, personally I didn’t like it when I came out and was the only person in the comics shop to strike it off my standing orders. It was a boring re-imagining of Superman, with everything interesting stripped out, (especially when compared to the Alan Moore issues 1 month earlier).

    Finally the reason that this is the only company wide crossover that works (until Grant Morrison) is that the story came first, not the plan for the crossover. Every other story was driven by the editorial need to have a crossover. Civil War nearly succeeds because it was also not conceived as a company wide crossover, its just a pity that they didn’t have the ending worked out when they started it and had to get Josh Whedon to give it to them.

  6. pillock says:

    I will freak you all out: I thought Byrne’s Superman was great. I am astonished at the hatred for it: is this part of the whole “oh if only we could have Comet the Super-Horse back” thing?

    The current Superman is essentially Byrne’s Superman.

    All-Star was a beautiful throwback to the pre-Crisis Superman. I like the pre-Crisis Superman. But outside of scewing up the Legion and making Lex a dumb businessman, did Byrne screw up so much? Byrne’s Clark is Quitely’s Clark…big dumb cluck. All-Star’s Perry doesn’t have any Super-Cigars.

    Andrew, I bet you were just waiting for someone to bring up All-Star Superman, weren’t you?

    • About Byrne’s Superman:

      Byrne was knocking it out of the park, art-wise, and I do actually think a lot of those issues are a fun read. I suppose I do *like* Byrne’s Superman as *stories*, but I dislike Byrne’s Superman on some sort of philosophical level.

      I think the “cold, sterile” Krypton makes the Superman myth lose something. I don’t want to put words into Byrne’s mouth (or mind), but I always detect a weird commentary on immigration — Clark is DAMN LUCKY he landed in America on Earth instead of growing up in that stupid old place he came from. It’s a pretty strong reversal from all-inclusive pre-Crisis Superman, who blends the cultures of both his adopted *and* native worlds; pre-Crisis Superman doesn’t need to choose one or the other, but post-Crisis Superman doesn’t feel much of anything for the “old country.”

      Also, I might fight you on Byrne’s Clark being the same as Quitely’s Clark. Q’s Clark is all about humility (the lack of which is the one real negative personality defect found in the inhabitants of the sci-fi wonderland “classic” Krypton); B’s Clark is assertive but restrained — it’s Christopher Reeve vs. George Reeves, isn’t it?

      But again, I do enjoy the stories, which is usually my primary concern in a superhero comic. I am always torn on Byrne’s Superman.

      • Tilt Araiza says:

        >but I always detect a weird commentary on immigration<

        Didn't Byrne also introduce that thing where the rocket from Krypton was some sort of gestation pod, so he was actually born in Kansas when the Kents removed him from it?

        • Yeah, and because he was only “born” after the rocket actually landed, that made him technically a U.S. citizen. It’s a weird thing to insist on, I think. “Superman an illegal alien? Not on MY watch!”

          • Tilt Araiza says:

            >It’s a weird thing to insist on<

            From English-born, Canadian-raised John Byrne, it could be seen as a shame issue.

  7. anagramsci says:

    interesting contribution to an interesting discussion!

    I’m torn about all of this stuff… I like DC in the second half of the 1980s: Messner-Loebs’ Flash, Cary Bates’ Captain Atom, Stern’s Power of the Atom, the Stern-Ordway-Jurgens Superman titles, the Legion 5 years later series and, of course, everything by Grant Morrison (Animal Man justifies Crisis all by itself–although I should add that I’m not fond of it IN itself… )

    I never cared for the revamped League (although the early 80s JLA was even lamer) , but I do like DeMatteis’ doomed Dr. Fate series–and of course the company was also putting out interesting non-DCUniverse stuff like Jones’ The Shadow Strikes

    but I also like the immediate pre-Crisis DC a lot!

    yes, there was some weak stuff in circulation, but Roy Thomas’ Earth-Two books were the culmination of everything The Boy had been building toward since the mid-1960s, and I yield to no one in my admiration for Bates/Infantino’s late-model Barry Allen Flash and Kupperberg/Infantino’s Flash (not that anyone has ever ASKED me to!)… Levitz/Giffen Legion was excellent too, of course

    the tragedy of Crisis–and I realize that this is a pretty idiosyncratically personal tragedy–is that the Wolfman/Perez series killed exactly the books that I liked best… maybe they were dying anyway… I guess that’s how they became expendable…

    ah well

    is the consolidated universe strategy fascist? I wouldn’t say so, but it’s definitely an aggressive episteme–the kind of threat that Morrison’s Doom Patrol dealt with every issue…

    that’s probably not a bad tool in the storyteller’s arsenal… personally, I believe in radical dissensus–but the government doesn’t, and the government does seem to have a lot of say in my daily life… it’s probably important for political art to reflect that (literature about power is always political–and literature about superpower is superpolitical)… so that brings me back to Grant Morrison’s work justifying Crisis all by itself

    I still wish they could have saved Earth Two

  8. anagramsci says:

    yikes, I typed that too fast–I meant Kupperberg/Infantino’s (Daring New Adventures of) Supergirl

    and when I say I’m not fond of it IN itself–I mean Crisis (not Animal Man, which is my favourite thing of all)–perhaps that’s not clear!

    Dave

  9. pillock says:

    “Is the consolidated universe strategy fascist? I wouldn’t say so, but it’s definitely an aggressive episteme–the kind of threat that Morrison’s Doom Patrol dealt with every issue…”

    Well, Dave says it much better than I was about to, thank goodness!

    Guess I don’t have to weigh in again after all…lucky for you, because what he said in two sentences there I was intending to blow up to 3,000 words…

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